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Attention Economy In The Covid Classroom

Keeping students attention during class has always been a tall order for any caring high school teacher. But that problem grows exponentially when faced with the challenge of distance learning. In this digital wasteland, attention is a valuable commodity and is one that many students have decided to keep to themselves. In fact, some end […]

Keeping students attention during class has always been a tall order for any caring high school teacher. But that problem grows exponentially when faced with the challenge of distance learning.

In this digital wasteland, attention is a valuable commodity and is one that many students have decided to keep to themselves. In fact, some end up just turning their camera off and end up going on their phone the entire time.

In an effort to understand how the teachers feel, and how they’re handling this situation, I decided to interview three of my teachers: literature teacher Mr. O.J. Solander, social studies teacher Mr. Vince Leporini, and art teacher Mrs. Christine Kerr.

What is the first issue you have to deal with and keeping student attention?

Mr. Solander: “Trying to be conscious of how much I’m speaking. What I appreciate is when people speak less and let us do more. I try to use my inflection and some enthusiasm which is honestly easier in this format.”

Mr. Leporini: “I have found that in this format I cannot rely on the nonverbal cues that I rely on to read the audience, so i have to be more assertive and confident as a teacher to call on students.”

Mrs. Kerr: “It’s multiple issues. I think students are distracted by other things going on and they’re are also overloaded by having to watch and listen to their teacher all day… They have it tuned out. I’m not really getting any feedback, so i feel I’m reiterating.”

How have your grading policies changed because of this?

Mr. Solander: “I never thought I was a terribly hard grader on day to day stuff and even with essays, you really have to be missing something to get a D or an F. I anticipate us going a little bit slower and a little bit more leeway in deadlines and checking in with deadlines.”

Mr. Leporini: “Because everything is open book open note, you can’t ask just basic fact questions. It requires more higher level response from students… You can’t just ask them to memorize.”

Ms. Kerr: “I think I’m more lenient, I just feel guilty I don’t feel like I can give them everything I have to offer.”

What do you think of students who don’t pay attention in your class?

Mr. Solander: “I’m not upset. I understand this is a very difficult situation… I try to emphasize that a student’s education is always their responsibility, and that’s even more true right now that you guys are mostly responsible.”

Mr. Leporini: “I have to rely on the fact you want to be here and I have to know there are things you can’t control… I have to rely on the material to engage.”

What are obvious tells students aren’t paying attention?

Mr. Solander: “The obvious pointing the camera towards the ceiling or being obviously out of frame… I have moved people to breakout rooms and people will just stay in the meetings…Things like that.”

Mr. Leporini: “It is much more challenging I think in this format — it comes out in the responses in the work. The most obvious tell is when someone stays in the general meeting. It’s difficult to measure students attention.”

Mrs. Kerr: “I can tell. I think they are exhausted… I have tremendous empathy for them. I find it hard to sit in meetings all day and focus on a screen sitting still… I don’t learn well from watching on a screen.”


I felt my interview revealed a lot I didn’t know about the inner workings for teachers, and no matter how hard it is for us, they face and equally difficult job to be interesting and engaging while everybody else is thinking about different things .

After doing this interview, I have a lot more sympathy for the work that teachers of had to put in this school year, and I encourage everybody else to try and put in a little bit more obvious attention into their classes.

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